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Guan Yu

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Guan Yu is depicted in this 19th century Japanese woodcut by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Guan Yu (Simplified Chinese: 关羽, Traditional Chinese: 關羽, Pinyin: Guān Yǔ) was a general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms era of China. He played a significant role in the civil war that led to the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the establishment of the Kingdom of Shu, of which Liu Bei was the first emperor.[1]

As one of the best known Chinese historical figures throughout East Asia, Guan Yu's true life stories have largely given way to fictionalized ones, mostly found in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms or passed down the generations, in which his deeds and moral qualities have been lionized.

Guan Yu was deified as early as the Sui Dynasty and is still worshipped by Taoists, Confucianists and Buddhists today, especially in southern China. He is respected as the epitome of loyalty and righteousness.

Physical appearance

Guan Yu is traditionally portrayed as a red-faced warrior with a long lush beard. While his beard was indeed mentioned in the Records of Three Kingdoms, the idea of his red face may have derived from a later description of him in Chapter One of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, where the following passage appears:

Xuande took a glance at the man, who stood at a height of nine chi,[2][3] and had a two chi[4] long beard; his face was of the color of a jujube,[5] with red lips; his eyes were like that of a phoenix's,[6] and his eyebrows resembled silkworms.[7] He had a dignified aura and looked quite majestic.

Alternatively, the idea of his red face could have been borrowed from opera representation, where red faces depict loyalty and righteousness. Supposedly, Guan Yu's weapon was a guan dao named Green Dragon Crescent Blade, which resembled a halberd and was said to weigh 82 catties[8] (about 49.5 kg or 109 lbs). A wooden replica can be found today in the Emperor Guan Temple in Xiezhou County, China. He traditionally dons a green robe over his body armour, as depicted in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.


Early life

Guan Yu was born in the county of Xie (解, a subdistrict of present day Yuncheng, Shanxi). No details of the time of his birth are found in historical records.

Guan Yu fled his hometown at the age of 23 after slaying a local bully named Lü Xiong (呂熊). Five years later, he arrived in Zhuo Commandery (涿郡, present day Zhuozhou, Hebei). He met Liu Bei, who was recruiting volunteers to form a civilian army to counter the Yellow Turbans Rebellion. Together with Zhang Fei, Guan Yu joined Liu Bei and participated actively in fighting the Yellow Turbans in northern China.

For his efforts in putting down the rebellion, Liu Bei was appointed as the Governor of Pingyuan County. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were also appointed as military officers serving under Liu. According to Records of Three Kingdoms, the relationship of the three men was described to be "as close as brothers". They slept on the same bed and treated each other like brothers. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei followed Liu Bei most of the time wherever he went and protected him from danger regardless of how perilous the situation was.

In 199, Liu Bei attacked Xuzhou with an army after gaining independence from the warlord Cao Cao. He killed Che Zhou, the governor of Xuzhou who was appointed by Cao Cao, and placed Guan Yu in charge of the regional capital city of Xiapi. Liu returned to the city of Xiaopei. Shortly after, Cao Cao personally led a campaign to reclaim Xuzhou from Liu Bei and defeated Liu Bei in battle. Liu Bei fled to Hebei and sought refuge under the warlord Yuan Shao. Xiapi fell and Guan Yu surrendered to Cao Cao. Cao Cao treated Guan Yu respectfully and appointed him as a deputy general.

Service under Cao Cao

In 200, the warlord Yuan Shao mustered an army of 100,000 in strength and started a campaign against Cao Cao which subsequently culminated in the Battle of Guandu. To ensure a safe crossing of the Yellow River, Yuan sent his general Yan Liang to attack Boma (northeast of present day Huaxian, Henan) as a diversionary tactic. As a counter-tactic, Cao Cao moved his main force westward towards Yan Ford along the River. Yuan Shao withdrew his troops from Baima and Cao Cao's forces struck back eastward to relieve the siege on Baima. Guan Yu and Zhang Liao led the attack on Yuan Shao's troops at Baima. Guan Yu slew Yan Liang in the battle and brought back Yan's severed head.

Guan Yu was conferred the title of Marquis[I] of Han Shou (漢壽亭侯) by the Emperor Xian in recognition of his efforts. After that, Guan Yu left for Hebei to rejoin Liu Bei, who was currently in Yuan Shao's camp. He did not take any of Cao Cao's gifts with him and left behind a farewell letter. Some of Cao Cao's subordinates wanted to pursue Guan Yu and bring him back but Cao Cao stopped them.

Capture of Jingzhou

After Cao Cao defeated Yuan Shao at the decisive Battle of Guandu, Liu Bei was defeated at the Battle of Runan by Cao Cao and forced to flee south. He sought refuge under the Jingzhou (荊州) Governor Liu Biao. Liu Bei and his forces were placed in charge of the city of Xinye by Liu Biao.

In 208, Cao Cao initiated the southern campaign and seized control of parts of Jingzhou north of the Yangtze River. Liu Biao had died of illness then and was succeeded by his son Liu Cong, who surrendered to Cao Cao. Liu Bei fled south and formed an alliance with the warlord Sun Quan, who ruled most of southeastern China. The allies defeated Cao Cao at the Battle of Red Cliffs and Liu Bei managed to reclaim parts of Jingzhou. During the campaign on the city of Jiangling in Jingzhou, Guan Yu was assigned to attack from the north. He was ambushed by the enemy general Li Tong and most of his military equipment was destroyed. Guan Yu ordered a retreat and Li Tong managed to reinforce Jiangling.

Guan Yu was promoted to the rank of General Who Exterminates Rebels (蕩寇將軍) and appointed as the Governor of the city of Xiangyang by Liu Bei. However, he was stationed in Jiangling and tasked with defending northern Jingzhou from Cao Cao. In 213, Liu Bei left for Yizhou (present day Sichuan) and wrestled control of the land from Liu Zhang after two years. Liu Bei and most of his forces stayed in Bashu since then, while Guan Yu and part of Liu Bei's forces remained in Jingzhou. In 219, Liu Bei proclaimed himself Prince of Hanzhong (漢中王) and appointed Guan Yu as General of the Front (前將軍).

Defeat and death

In 219, Guan Yu attacked the nearby enemy city of Fancheng (樊城, present day Xiangfan, Hubei), which was guarded by Cao Ren, and besieged it. In autumn, heavy showers in the region caused the Han River next to the city to overflow. The flood destroyed reinforcements troops from Cao Cao led by Yu Jin and Pang De. Both Yu and Pang were captured by Guan Yu in battle. However, reinforcements led by Xu Huang managed to force Guan Yu's troops to retreat.

At that time, Guan Yu realised that Eastern Wu had secretly formed an alliance with Cao Wei and attacked Jingzhou while he was attacking Fancheng. The commanders Mi Fang and Fu Shiren he left in charge of Jingzhou had surrendered to Eastern Wu. When Guan Yu's troops received news that their families in Jingzhou had fallen into the control of Eastern Wu, some of them started deserting and returning to Jingzhou to reunite with their families.

Guan Yu's army fell in numbers significantly after several of his troops deserted. Guan attempted to retreat to Bashu in the west but was surrounded and besieged by Eastern Wu forces at Maicheng (麥城, southeast of present day Dangyang, Hubei). Guan Yu attempted to break out of the encirclement together with his son Guan Ping and subordinate Zhao Lei but failed. They were captured in Zhang Town (east of modern day Yuan'an County, Hubei) and executed by Eastern Wu forces after refusing to surrender. Sun Quan sent Guan Yu's severed head to Cao Cao, who performed the proper funeral rites and buried Guan Yu's severed head with full honours. Guan Yu was granted the posthumous title of Marquis of Zhuangmou (壯繆侯).

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms written by Luo Guanzhong glorified Guan Yu by portraying him as a righteous and loyal warrior. Guan Yu was one of the most altered and aggrandised characters in the novel, which accounted for his popular image in Chinese society. The following are some significant stories involving Guan Yu from the novel:

Early life

In Chapter 1, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei met in Zhuo County and took the oath of fraternity in the fabled Peach Garden, thus becoming sworn brothers. Guan Yu was ranked second in seniority among the three. The oath served as a guiding principle for Guan Yu and influenced much of his later life. Guan Yu held on to his oath till his death and was always loyal to his sworn brothers.

In Chapter 5, Guan Yu made his name by slaying the seemingly "undefeatable" warrior Hua Xiong in the campaign against Dong Zhuo. Later, the sworn brothers challenged the mighty warrior Lü Bu at Hulao Pass and managed to force Lü Bu to retreat although they never defeated him.

Short service under Cao Cao

In Chapter 25, Cao Cao attacked Liu Bei's territory of Xuzhou and defeated Liu Bei's army. The sworn brothers were temporarily separated. Guan Yu was in charge of defending Xiapi, where Liu Bei's wives were housed. Guan Yu was lured out of the city and besieged on a nearby knoll while the city fell to Cao Cao's troops. Cao Cao sent Zhang Liao to persuade Guan Yu to surrender. Guan Yu was worried about the safety of his sisters-in-law as he saw that as his responsibility. After much consideration, Guan Yu agreed to submit to Cao Cao on three conditions:

  1. In name, Guan Yu submits to the Emperor Xian (who was actually a puppet ruler in Cao Cao's control) and not to Cao Cao.
  2. Liu Bei's wives must not be harmed in any way. They must be treated with full respect and honour.
  3. If Guan Yu manages to discover the whereabouts of Liu Bei (whose fate was unknown after the battle) one day, he will leave Cao Cao and reunite with his sworn brother.

Cao Cao agreed to the conditions although he felt uneasy about the last one. Guan Yu then submitted to Cao Cao and served Cao Cao for a short period of time. Cao Cao treated Guan Yu with the utmost respect and bestowed upon Guan Yu several gifts, luxuries and women, as well as the famous steed Red Hare which once belonged to Lü Bu. Guan Yu was not very appreciative towards Cao Cao's other gifts, but when Cao Cao gave him the steed, he knelt down and thanked Cao Cao. When Cao Cao inquired the reason, Guan Yu replied, "Sir, I'm very grateful to you for the steed because with it, I can reach my sworn brother in a shorter period of time if I ever know where he is."

Also in Chapter 25, during the battle between the forces of Cao Cao and the warlord Yuan Shao on the banks of the Yellow River, Cao Cao's generals were defeated by Yuan's general Yan Liang. Cao Cao wanted to send Guan Yu to challenge Yan but he hesitated because he did not want Guan to make any contributions. Guan had earlier said that he would show his gratitude towards Cao Cao by making some contributions during the period of time when he served Cao Cao. Nevertheless, Cao Cao did send Guan Yu to fight Yan Liang and Guan Yu emerged victorious, slaying Yan Liang and returning with Yan's severed head. In the following chapter, Wen Chou, another of Yuan Shao's generals, came to avenge Yan Liang's death. Wen defeated a few of Cao Cao's best warriors, including Zhang Liao and Xu Huang. Guan Yu made another great contribution to Cao Cao yet again by slaying Wen Chou.

Crossing Five Passes and Slaying Six Generals

In Chapter 26, Guan Yu finally received news that Liu Bei was alive and currently in Yuan Shao's camp. Guan decided to leave Cao Cao together with Liu Bei's wives to rejoin Liu Bei. Guan Yu attempted to bid Cao Cao farewell in person before his departure but Cao Cao did not give him the chance to do so. Frustrated, Guan Yu eventually wrote a farewell letter to Cao Cao and left. He took with him none of the luxuries and gifts Cao Cao gave him, except the Red Hare. He even gave up his title as Marquis of Han Shou by leaving behind his official seal. Cao Cao's subordinates felt that Guan Yu behaved far too rudely and arrogantly by leaving without bidding farewell and wanted to pursue him and bring him back. However, Cao Cao knew that no one could stop the determined Guan Yu and he gave orders for the officials along the way to give passage to Guan Yu.

Guan Yu rode beside the carriage carrying his sisters-in-law and escorted them safely all the way. The first pass they reached was Dongling Pass (東嶺關, south of present day Dengfeng, Henan). The guarding officer Kong Xiu refused to allow Guan Yu passage as Guan did not have any official permits with him. Infuriated, Guan Yu killed Kong Xiu and forced his way through the pass.

They reached the city of Luoyang next. The Governor Han Fu led 1,000 men to blockade Guan Yu's passage. Han's subordinate Meng Tan challenged Guan Yu to a duel but was sliced into two by Guan. While Guan was fighting with Meng, Han Fu secretly took aim and fired an arrow at Guan Yu. The arrow hit Guan Yu's arm and wounded him, but Guan Yu drew the arrow from the wound and proceeded to kill Han Fu next. The shocked soldiers immediately gave way and they passed through safely.

Guan Yu's party arrived at Sishui Pass (汜水關, north of present day Xingyang, Henan). The guarding officer Bian Xi received Guan Yu's party with a warm welcome and invited Guan to a feast at the temple outside the Pass. In fact, Bian Xi had ordered 200 of his men to lie in ambush inside the temple and kill Guan Yu later. Fortunately, one of the monks called Pujing, who was also from Guan Yu's hometown, hinted to Guan Yu of the hidden danger. The ambush failed and Guan Yu killed Bian Xi and passed through Sishui Pass.

The Governor of Xingyang, Wang Zhi, adopted a similar scheme to kill Guan Yu. Like Bian Xi, he pretended to be welcoming towards Guan Yu and led Guan Yu's party to a courier station for them to settle in for the night. After that, Wang ordered his subordinate Hu Ban to lead 1,000 men to surround the station secretly and set fire to it in the middle of the night. Curious to know how the famous Guan Yu looked like, Hu Ban stole a glance at Guan Yu. Guan noticed Hu Ban and invited him into the room. Guan Yu had met Hu's father earlier and carried a letter with him. He gave the letter to Hu Ban and Hu decided to help Guan Yu after reading his father's letter. Hu Ban revealed Wang Zhi's evil plot and opened the city gates secretly for Guan Yu and his party to leave. Wang Zhi caught up a while later but Guan Yu turned back and killed him.

Guan Yu's party finally arrived at a ferry crossing on the southern bank of the Yellow River. Qin Qi, the officer in charge, refused to allow Guan Yu to cross the river and was killed by an angered Guan Yu. Guan Yu and his party then crossed the river safely and entered Yuan Shao's domain. However, they soon realised that Liu Bei was no longer in Yuan's territory and had left for Runan. Guan Yu and his party then made their long journey back and were finally reunited with Liu Bei and Zhang Fei at Gucheng.

Releasing Cao Cao at Huarong Trail

In Chapter 50, after suffering his defeat at the Battle of Red Cliffs, Cao Cao made his escape with his surviving men towards the city of Jiangling. Liu Bei's chief military strategist Zhuge Liang had foreseen Cao Cao's defeat and predicted Cao Cao's escape route. He ordered Guan Yu to lead 5,000 men and lie in ambush along the Huarong Trail, a narrow shortcut in the woods leading towards Jiangling. Before his departure, Guan Yu made a military sworn pledge that he would not spare Cao Cao's life on account of his past relationship with the warlord. If he failed to do so, he would face execution under military law. As expected, Cao Cao did pass through Huarong Trail after having met with several ambushes along his escape route.

Cao Cao and his men encountered Guan Yu and his army. Cao Cao spoke to Guan Yu and begged him to spare his life on account of their past relationship. Guan Yu was moved when he recalled the favours he received from Cao Cao while he was serving the warlord earlier for a short period of time. Also, when he saw the plight of Cao Cao's defeated troops and Zhang Liao, whom he saved earlier from death, he decided to allow Cao Cao and his men to leave. Upon his return, Guan Yu pleaded guilty to having violated the pledge he made earlier and expressed his willingness to accept execution. However, with the interference of Liu Bei and Zhang Fei, Zhuge Liang decided to pardon Guan Yu on account of his past contributions. It was later revealed that Zhuge Liang had expected Guan Yu to spare Cao Cao and his intention was actually to allow Cao Cao to escape so as to hasten the formation of the Three Kingdoms.

Hua Tuo treats Guan Yu's arm

In Chapter 75, during a siege on Fancheng (樊城, present day Xiangfan, Hubei), Guan Yu's arm was wounded by a bolt fired by enemy crossbowers. The arrow was promptly removed but the poison smeared on the arrowhead had already seeped deep into Guan Yu's arm. Guan Yu was unwilling to order a retreat thus his subordinates had to send for a physician to treat his wound. The famous physician Hua Tuo appeared in the nick of time and volunteered to treat Guan Yu's wound.

Hua Tuo diagnosed that he needed to perform surgery on Guan Yu's arm, by cutting open the flesh and scraping off traces of poison on the bone. Hua also suggested that Guan Yu be blindfolded and have his arm secured tightly because the surgery would be performed in the absence of anesthesia and most patients were unable to bear with the excruciating pain. However, Guan Yu requested that the surgery be performed on the spot and he proceeded to continue a game of Go with Ma Liang during the surgery. Throughout the surgery, those watching nearby cringed as they watched the gory scene before them, but Guan Yu remained calm and did not show any sign of pain at all. Eventually, Hua Tuo managed to heal Guan Yu's wound and sewed it up after applying medication and then left without accepting any reward.

Enlightenment on Yuqian Hill

In Chapter 77, after Guan Yu's death at the hands of Sun Quan, the lord of Eastern Wu, his spirit roamed the land, crying out, "Return my head!" His spirit came to Yuquan Hill outside Dangyang County (present day Dangyang, Hubei), and encountered Pujing, the monk who saved his life several years ago at Sishui Pass. Pujing spoke to the spirit, "Now you ask for your head, but from whom should Yan Liang, Wen Chou, the pass guardians and many others ask for theirs?" Guan's spirit was thus enlightened and disappeared, but henceforth it manifested itself around the hill and protected the locals from evil. The locals built a temple on the hill to worship the spirit.

The Buddhist monk Pujing was said to have built a grass hut for himself at the southeastern foot of Yuquan Hill during the last years of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The Yuquan Temple (玉泉寺), the oldest temple in the Dangyang region from where the worship of Guan Yu originated, was built on the exact location of the hut, and its construction was completed only until the Sui Dynasty.

After death

In Chapter 77, after Eastern Wu captured Jingzhou and killed Guan Yu, the lord Sun Quan threw a banquet to celebrate the victory in honour of the military commander Lü Meng, who planned the attack on Jingzhou. During the feast, Guan Yu's spirit possessed Lü Meng and seized Sun Quan. As the others rushed forward to save Sun Quan, the possessed Lü Meng swore vengeance before collapsing onto the floor. Moments later, Lü Meng died. Sun Quan was terrified and he sent Guan Yu's severed head to Cao Cao, hoping to push the responsibility of Guan Yu's death to Cao and sow discord between Shu Han and Cao Wei.

When Cao Cao opened the box containing Guan Yu's head, he saw that Guan's facial expressions resembled that of a living person. He smiled and spoke to the head, "I hope you are well since we last parted." To his horror, Guan Yu's head opened its eyes and mouth and the long beard and hairs stood on their ends. Cao Cao collapsed and did not regain consciousness until a long time later. When he came to, he exclaimed, "General Guan is truly a god from heaven!" Then he ordered the head to be buried with full honours befitting that of a noble.

Worship of Guan Yu

Guan Yu was deified as early as the Sui Dynasty (581-618), and is still popularly worshipped today among the Chinese people. He is variedly worshiped as an indigenous Chinese deity, a bodhisattva in the Buddhist tradition and as a guardian deity in Taoism.[9] He is also held in high esteem in Confucianism. These roles are not necessarily contradictory or even distinguished within the Chinese religious system, which often merges multiple ancient philosophies and religions.

In the Western world, Guan Yu is sometimes called the Taoist God of War, probably because he is one of the most well-known military general worshiped by the Chinese people. This is a misconception of his role, as, unlike Mars or Tyr, Guan Yu as a god does not necessarily bless those who go to battle but rather people who observe the code of brotherhood and righteousness.

General worship

In general worship, Guan Yu is widely referred to as Emperor Guan (關帝), short for his Taoist title Saintly Emperor Guan (關聖帝君), and as Guan Gong, literally "Lord Guan." Temples and shrines dedicated exclusively to Guan Yu can be found in parts of Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and other places with Chinese influence such as Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan. Some of these temples, such as the Emperor Guan Temple in Xiezhou (解州), Shanxi, were built in the layout of a palace, befitting his status as an "emperor".

The apotheosis of Guan Yu occurred in stages, as he was given ever higher posthumous titles. Liu Shan, the second emperor of Shu Han, gave Guan Yu the posthumous title of Marquis Zhuangmou (壯繆侯) four decades after his death. During the Song Dynasty, Emperor Huizong bestowed upon Guan Yu the title of Duke Zhonghui (忠惠公), and later even the title of prince. In 1187, during the reign of Emperor Xiaozong Guan Yu was established as Prince Zhuangmou Yiyong Wu'an Yingji (壯繆義勇武安英濟王). After the Song Dynasty was annihilated by Mongols, who established the Yuan Dynasty in China, Guan Yu was renamed Prince of Xianling Yiyong Wu'an Yingji (顯靈義勇武安英濟王) by Emperor Wenzong.

The escalation of Guan Yu's status to that of an emperor took place during the Ming Dynasty. In 1614, the Wanli Emperor bestowed on Guan Yu the title of Saintly Emperor Guan the Great God Who Subdues Demons of the Three Worlds and Whose Awe Spreads Far and Moves Heaven (三界伏魔大神威遠震天尊關聖帝君). During the Qing Dynasty, the Shunzhi Emperor gave Guan Yu the title of Zhongyi Shenwu Great Saintly Emperor Guan (忠義神武關聖大帝) in 1644. This title was expanded to The Grand Emperor Zhongyi Shenwu Lingyou Renyong Weixian Huguo Baomin Jingcheng Suijing Yizan Xuande Guan Sheng Dadi (仁勇威顯護國保民精誠綏靖翊贊宣德忠義神武關聖大帝), a total of 24 Chinese characters, by the mid-19th century. Qing advancement of Guan Yu served to strengthen the loyalty of Mongol tribes, as the Mongols revered Guan as second only to their lamas.[10]

Throughout history Guan Yu has also been credited with many military successes. During the Ming dynasty his spirit was said to have aided the founding emperor Zhu Yuanzhang's fleet at the Battle of Lake Poyang. In 1402, Zhu Di launched a coup d'état and successfully deposed his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor. Zhu Di claimed that he was blessed by the spirit of Guan Yu. During the last decade of the 16th century, Guan Yu was also credited with the repulsion of the Japanese invasion of Korea by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The ruling Manchu house of the Qing dynasty also associated with Guan Yu's martial qualities. During the 20th century, Guan Yu was worshipped by the warlord Yuan Shikai, president and later a short-lived emperor of China.

Today, Guan Yu is still widely worshiped by the Chinese, with many shrines to him are found in homes or businesses. In Hong Kong, a shrine for Guan Yu is located in each police station. Though by no means mandatory, most Chinese policemen worship and pay respect to him. Although Seemingly ironic, members of the Triad gangs and the Hung clan worship Guan Yu as well. A difference between the statues used by triad gangs and police station is which of Guan Yu's arm holds his halberd, right for the police and left for triads. The expression on Guan Yu's face for the Triads usually appears more sinister than on other statues. This exemplifies the Chinese belief that a code of honor, epitomized by Guan Yu, exists even in the underworld. In Hong Kong, Guan Yu is often referred to as "Yi Gor" (二哥, (Cantonese for second big brother) for he was second to Liu Bei in their legendary sworn brotherhood. Guan Yu is also worshipped by Chinese businessmen in Shanxi Province, Hong Kong, Macau and Southeast Asia as an alternative wealth god, since he is perceived to bless the upright and protect them from the crooked. Another reason being related to the release of Cao Cao during the Huarong Pass incident where he let Cao Cao and his general passed through safely. As for that, he was perceived to be able to give a lifeline to those that needed it.

Among the Cantonese Chinese who emigrated to California during the mid-19th century, worship of Guan Yu was an important element. Statues and tapestry images of the god can be found in a number of historical California joss houses (a local term for Taoist temples), where his name may be given with various Anglicized spellings, including Kwan Dai, Kwan Tai, Kuan Ti, Kuan Kung, Wu Ti, Mo Dai, Guan Di, Kuan Yu, Kwan Yu, or Quan Yu. The Mendocino, California Joss House, a historical landmark also known as Mo Dai Miu, The Military God-King's Temple, or Temple of Kwan Tai, built in 1852, is a typical example of the small shrines erected to Guan Yu in America.

Worship in Taoism

Guan Yu is revered as Saintly Emperor Guan (Simplified Chinese: 关圣帝君, Traditional Chinese: 關聖帝君, Pinyin: Gūanshèngdìjūn) and a leading subduer of demons in Taoism. Taoist worship of Guan Yu began during the Song Dynasty. Legend has it that during the second decade of the 12th century, the saltwater lake in present day Xiezhou County (解州鎮) gradually ceased to yield salt. Emperor Huizong then summoned Celestial Master Zhang Jixian (張繼先), thirtieth descendant of Celestial Master Zhang Daoling, to investigate the cause. The emperor was told that the disruption was the work of Chi You, a deity of war. The Master then recruited the help of Guan Yu, who did battle with Chi You over the lake and triumphed, whereupon the lake resumed salt production. Emperor Huizong then bestowed upon Guan Yu the title of Immortal of Chongning (崇寧真君), formally introducing the latter as a deity into Taoism.

In early Ming Dynasty, the forty-second Celestial Master Zhang Zhengchang (張正常) recorded the incident in his book Lineage of the Han Celestial Masters (漢天師世家), the first Taoist classic to affirm the legend. Today Taoism practices are predominant in Guan Yu worship. Many temples dedicated to Guan Yu, including the Emperor Guan Temple in Xiezhou County, show heavy Taoist influence. Every year, on the twenty fourth day of the sixth month on the lunar calendar (legendary birthday of Emperor Guan Yu, Guan Yu was actually born on the twenty second day of the sixth month of the year 160), a street parade in the honor of Emperor Guan would also be held.

Worship in Buddhism

In Chinese Buddhism, Guan Yu is revered by most practicing Buddhists as Sangharama Bodhisattva (Simplified Chinese: 伽蓝菩萨, Traditional Chinese: 伽藍菩薩, Pinyin: Qíelán Púsà) a protector of the Buddhist dharma. Sangharama in Sanskrit means 'community garden' (sangha, community + arama, garden) and thus 'monastery'. The sangharama refer to a group of devas and spirits who guard Buddhist monasteries, the dharma, and the faith itself. Over time and as an act of syncreticism, Guan Yu was seen as a representative sangharama guardian of the temple and the garden in which it stands. His statue is usually located on the far left of the main shrine, opposite his counterpart, Skanda.

According to Buddhist legends, in 592, Guan Yu manifested himself one night before Ch'an Master Zhiyi, the founder of the Tientai school of Buddhism, along with a retinue of spiritual beings. Zhiyi was then in deep meditation on Yuquan Hill (玉泉山) when he was distracted by Guan Yu's presence. Guan Yu then requested the master to teach him about the dharma. After receiving Buddhist teachings from the master, Guan Yu took refuge in the triple gems and also requested the Five Precepts. Henceforth, it is said that Guan Yu made a vow to become a guardian of temples and the Dharma. Legends also claim that Guan Yu assisted Zhiyi in the construction of the Yuquan Temple (玉泉寺), which still stands today.

In the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Luo Guanzhong wrote that Guan Yu manifested himself to a monk named Pujing (普淨) on Yuquan Hill on the night of his death, with his spirit shouting "Return my head!" From Pujing, Guan Yu sought the Buddhist teachings and entered the faith after being told by Pujing "Where should Yan Liang, Wen Chou, and the guardians of the five passes whom you have slain seek their heads?" While this being a modification of the "true" account, Pujing did exist in history. The location at which Pujing built a grass hut for himself was where the Yuquan Temple was later built on.

See also


I. The title of marquis was divided into three grades during the late Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms period. These are, in ascending order of prestige, tinghou (亭侯), xianghou (郷侯) and xianhou (縣侯). Guan Yu's was the first.


  1. Perkins, Dorothy (1999). Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture, p. 192. Checkmark Books, New York. ISBN 0-8160-2693-9 (hc); ISBN 0-8160-4373-4 (pbk).
  2. In the Eastern Han Dynasty, one chi was approximately 23.1 cm, nine chi was approximately 2.079 meters (6 feet, 9.85 inches). Hulsewé, A. F. P. "Han measures." T’oung pao Archives, Vol. XLIX, Livre 3, 1961, pp. 206-207.
  3. Dubs, Homer H. (1938). The History of the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku. Vol. One. "Chapter IV, Appendix I, Standard Weights and Measures of Han Times", pp. 276-280 Baltimore. Waverly Press, Inc.; Dubs, Homer H. The History of the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku. Vol. Three, p. 160 n.7. Ithaca, New York. Spoken Languages Services, Inc.
  4. In the Eastern Han Dynasty, one chi was approximately 23.1 cm, two chi was approximately 46.2 cm (~18 inches)
  5. His face had a dark red hue to it, like the color of dark jujube fruit.
  6. The corners of his eyes were upturned
  7. They were long and tapered
  8. "度量衡 (Weight and measure)". 维基百科. Retrieved 2007-12-18. 
  9. 從關羽到關聖帝君—論關公信仰形成與發展
  10. Roberts 1991, pg. 970


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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Guan Yu. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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